Tag Archive: M. Basketball

  1. MEN’S BASKETBALL: James Jones, hoping to encourage African American history course requirements, joins board at ABIS

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    For James Jones, George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May sparked several discussions.

    “I couldn’t have a conversation with anybody without the George Floyd murder coming up,” said Jones, who enters his 22nd season as the head coach of Yale men’s basketball this fall.

    But Jones, who is Black, found that many people, especially those his age or older, had already decided where they stood on Floyd’s murder and race in America before dialogues began. As much as seeing “all different shades of people” protesting in New Haven encouraged him, he felt others had unfairly shifted the narrative around Black Lives Matter and efforts at change.

    Earlier this month, Jones joined the Board of Directors for the Advancement of Blacks in Sports, a new national organization that seeks to promote racial, social and economic justice for Blacks in athletics and beyond. His players describe him as an optimist — staying locked at home with family in quarantine “is nothing” when Jones compares his current situation to sacrifices made during wars and other tragedies — and the head coach has real hope in America’s youth. At ABIS, he is co-chair of the “Teaching African American History” education initiative.

    “We feel that the biggest problem with African Americans being shot for little or nothing is because of a lack of knowledge,” Jones said. “I think that [by] understanding people, it slows the fear of African Americans, so these things can cease to happen. If there was a better understanding of people that are next to you, if we understood the plight of people and who they are, it might make it easier for us to be able to live together.”

    The committee, which also includes his younger brother and Boston University men’s basketball head coach Joe Jones, hopes everyone who goes to high school and college takes a class in African American history.

    Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway, left, greets Jones before Yale’s game at Memphis in November 2018. Hardaway serves on the Black Lives Matter Initiative at ABIS. (Photo: Joe Murphy/Yale Athletics)

    Jones and ABIS

    Founded by grassroots basketball coach Gary Charles, ABIS primarily draws collegiate and AAU basketball coaches together with others involved in athletics. The group also features professionals in music, law and business on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors. Most involved with ABIS, though not all, are Black.

    Jones said he had previously interacted with Charles at AAU basketball tournaments that the ABIS founder has organized. Younger brother Joe, Jones added, knows Charles well, and all three are from Long Island.

    Both Joneses now have significant experience as Division I head coaches. With 333 career wins and 21 seasons after he earned the Yale job in 1999, James is the all-time winningest men’s basketball coach in school history and has the second most wins in Ivy League history. But James said being a Black head coach added pressure, particularly early in his career.

    “You know if you’re not successful how this works: if I’m not successful, it’s not like they’re going to hire another African American to fill my shoes,” Jones said. “I felt like I needed to be successful to help the people after me.”

    In 2019, after Yale won Ivy Madness and advanced to its second NCAA Tournament under Jones, he was recognized with the Ben Jobe Award, given annually to the top minority coach in Division I men’s basketball.

    The examples of successful Black head coaches that came before him helped pave his way, he added.

    “It wasn’t something that I acknowledged, but it’s something that I know was there for me knowing that [former Georgetown coach] John Thompson and [former Temple coach] John Chaney and [former Arkansas coach] Nolan Richardson were able to be successful at something I wanted to do,” Jones said. “Subconsciously, it made it easier to do what I did.”

    ABIS, which officially launched at the start of September, consists of several sub-committees that devote attention to specific areas of focus within the organization’s mission of promoting racial, social and economic justice for Blacks. Among others, Georgia State men’s basketball coach Rob Lanier leads a group on the ACT and SAT; Howard men’s coach Kenny Blakeney chairs the voter registration committee; Cal women’s coach Charmin Smith and Depaul men’s coach Dave Leitao oversee a group around hiring practices; and Oklahoma State men’s coach Mike Boynton and Towson women’s coach Diane Richardson lead the Supplier Diversity Initiative. Boston University women’s coach Marisa Moseley is co-chair with Jones on the education initiative.

    When it comes to his own committee work around African American history education, Jones said he has talked with a couple professors at Yale but declined to name them publicly. He said the committee’s original thinking was to approach the issue from a “macro” level, but they are now considering approaching the idea at the institutions and schools with which they are associated.

    “I’d like to see [an African American history graduation requirement] everywhere in the country,” Jones said. “Not just at Yale. I’d like to see it everywhere in the country where people could understand each other … People have said they think they should change the name to All Lives Matter, but you’re not understanding what’s going on when you say stuff like that, you’re not really getting it. I think that’s the biggest problem — trying to educate people in terms of what’s happening.”

    Jones specifically referenced the University of Pittsburgh, which over the summer introduced a required, one-credit course on anti-Black racism for all first-year students.

    McClellan Hall, home of the History Department. (Photo: Sanya Nijhawan)

    An African American history requirement at Yale?

    Yale currently imposes area and skills requirements on undergraduates, asking students to complete a language requirement and take two course credits in each of the humanities and arts, social sciences and sciences, as well as two credits in classes that hone quantitative reasoning and writing skills.

    “The Department of History’s distributional requirements are defined by geography and chronology,” History Department chair Alan Mikhail wrote in an email to the News. “We have not discussed formally changing that, but as Chair I am always open to student feedback and suggestions, of course.”

    Mikhail added that the department’s course offerings often track student interests. This semester, he noted, the department’s most popular courses are on African American history, global health and the history of the political present. According to the most recent course demand statistics available on Sept. 6, 104 students are enrolled in “The Long Civil Rights Movement” taught by Crystal Feimster, making it the largest course in the History Department this fall.

    Chair of the Department of African American Studies Jacqueline Goldsby GRD ’93 ’98 said that discussion around a possible African American history or ethnic studies requirement for Yale College has surfaced twice since she assumed her role as department chair in 2014. In November 2015, the student group Next Yale listed an ethnic studies distributional requirement as its first demand in a list presented to University President Peter Salovey.

    The second instance occurred this past summer, when Aja Horwitz ’01 circulated a petition to make African American history a graduation requirement — not just at Yale, but at colleges in general. The petition received just over 2,000 signatures.

    Goldsby said discussions this summer did not result in any formal vote, but the consensus was that faculty members needed to have a broad conversation about the topic that stretches across units that teach African American history. Faculty in History, American Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, she noted, all teach significant strands of African American history in their work.

    “We want everyone to learn about African American history,” Goldsby said. “That is not the question. We teach African American history every day. But why not Latinx history, why not Native American history, why not also Asian American history? … If Yale instituted a diversity requirement, why should it focus only on African American history?”

    One potential solution would be to adopt a broader ethnic studies requirement, as the California State University system did in July. But beyond concerns around the specificity of a potential course requirement, the department also identified other cautions during informal discussions this summer.

    Considerations around resources and departmental capacity influence large curricular changes. Goldsby said that to her knowledge, there are currently six faculty members whose research focus lies in African American history: David Blight, Crystal Feimster, Elizabeth Hinton, Matthew Jacobson, Edward Rugemer and Nicole Turner.

    Personally, Goldsby feels the department may lose some autonomy over its hiring and priorities if African American Studies houses a requirement. Properly staffing a required course in African American history for over 6,000 Yale College students might skew the department’s ability to grow in other fields where its faculty teach, Goldsby said, including art history, anthropology, economics, French, literature, music, political science, psychology and sociology. The requirement could reshape hiring in the discipline, increasing faculty hires and graduate student admissions to field enough instructors who specialize in African American history.

    Finally, Goldsby said department faculty thought requiring all students to take a course on something as sensitive as race could create hostile class environments that detract from the experiences of professors and other students. Although some students would certainly be interested and intellectually stimulated, faculty members — who might often be junior, non-tenured faculty of color, Goldsby said — could need to deal with students who resent being forced to complete such a requirement. The situation would also be challenging for tenured faculty, she added, while instructors in other required areas like QR-credit courses or language classes do not necessarily need to consider that racially charged class dynamic.

    “This is not to say one doesn’t do this,” Goldsby said. “It’s to say these are the kinds of questions that need to be thought through.”

    “The ways in which athletes and the whole athletic world are rising up is powerful and important,” she added. “We cherish [sports] as a space where we can come together, where there’s a kind of congregation, and all of us who watch and enjoy sports value it as a space of shared enthusiasm and experience. So for these athletes to say, ‘No, the world comes into the arena too,’ that’s a big deal, and I totally respect it.”

    With 333 career victories, Jones ranks as the winningest men’s basketball coach in school history. (Photo: Matt Dewkett/Yale Athletics)

    For Jones and ABIS, the work is just beginning. Jones discussed issues around race with many of his players over Zoom this summer, and ABIS group meetings now have him on Zoom every two weeks. His subcommittee on teaching African American history meets once every month, he said. ABIS has plans to add some student-athletes to its team, but Jones said the group is still working through that as it continues its launch.

    Jones’ involvement in ABIS begins alongside what promises to be the most unusual season of his coaching career, if a season occurs at all. He is home in Pauli Murray College, where he receives COVID-19 testing like other members of the Yale community, and said it is nice to see students back in the courtyard interacting with each other. Phased strength training is set to start soon for the handful of his players enrolled in residence, and Jones said he has filled the program’s previously vacant director of basketball operations position, although the hire is still being processed.

    His schedule this fall is largely free from the hectic routine that accompanies preseason practice, nonconference air travel and recruiting. ABIS, he said, is something he could have made time for regardless.

    “Well, I think that [the time’s] certainly been helpful, but I’d like to also think that we would have found the time to try to do this work because of how necessary it is,” Jones said. “Our country is so divided in so many different ways, and if we can find ways to bring our country together, I think it would improve all of us.”

    ABIS officially launched on Sept. 2, 2020.

    William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu

  2. MEN’S BASKETBALL: At least seven of 12 returners taking fall-term leaves

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    With classes online, the nonconference basketball slate canceled this fall and not all students invited back to campus, at least seven of the 12 returning players on the Yale men’s basketball team have decided to take leaves of absence this semester, they told the News.

    Before the Ivy League canceled athletic competition until at least Jan. 1, players had already begun weighing options for the fall and this full year. When the time came for final decisions, non-basketball factors related to careers and job opportunities also significantly influenced their individual plans. 

    Nearly half of the returners are still in New Haven, either enrolled or working virtual internships. A slight majority of the team is taking the chance to pursue other opportunities away from the Elm City.

    “We as a team were pretty aware before [the Ivy League’s July announcement] just based off what was happening in the world that there was going to be at least no fall,” said captain Jalen Gabbidon ’22, who is taking a leave of absence this semester. “We knew that was not going to happen [and] it was pretty evident to us … so people kind of had plans in action.”

    In addition to Gabbidon, who told the News he is not currently planning to enroll this spring either, classmate and forward Jameel Alausa ’22 is planning to take a full gap year. Nearly all of last year’s sophomore players are taking leaves this fall, each of them told the News: forward Isaiah Kelly ’23, forward Jake Lanford ’23, guard Matthue Cotton ’23 and guard Michael Feinberg ’23, who intends to take a full-year leave of absence like Alausa. Would-be sophomore and guard August Mahoney ’24 said he is also taking a leave this fall.

    On the other hand, forward EJ Jarvis ’23 is enrolling remotely since sophomores are not welcome back in New Haven this fall semester. Junior guard Eze Dike ’22 told the News he is enrolled this fall, but unsure about his status for the spring. Finally, returning senior forwards Wyatt Yess ’21 and Paul Atkinson ’21 are both enrolled in residence this fall.

    Forward Paul Atkinson ’21, center, said he intends to enroll for the full year. (Photo: muscosportsphotos.com)

    Atkinson, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, said he intends to enroll in the spring as well. The 6-foot-10 forward, whom Mid-Major Madness named to their list of five mid-major players with potential for national stardom last month, briefly declared for the NBA Draft in the spring before removing his name and preserving his final season of collegiate eligibility. In the event the Ancient Eight has no season this year and the NCAA extends Ivy basketball players an extra season of eligibility, Atkinson would likely generate interest from several high-major programs searching for a graduate transfer if he does not immediately pursue a professional basketball career. 

    “It just came down to me wanting to enroll in school rather than take the year off,” Atkinson said. “I’m still hoping for the best for the spring season but if not, I’m looking forward to the future after I graduate, which I know will hold options for me.”

    Would-be senior and guard Azar Swain could not comment on his final fall-term status in time for publication, but said he plans to announce his decision soon. Yess and other players said that three of the five first years initially in Yale’s class of 2024 ultimately decided to enroll, while two — guards Yassine Gharram and Emir Buyukhanli — are taking a gap year.

    Gabbidon said head coach James Jones and the rest of the Yale coaching staff helped players consider the real possibility of no basketball season this year and did not want anyone to be “thrown off guard.” Still, for many, decisions about their ultimate fall statuses required serious thinking and exploration into potential job and internship opportunities.

    Graphic: Christie Yu

    Many players spent the summer going back-and-forth. Gabbidon, originally against the idea of a leave of absence, said he wanted to make sure his enrollment decision was not only about basketball. A computer science major who has worked at Google for the past two summers, the 6-foot-5 captain thought there would be little benefit to taking time off once he removed basketball from his thought process. But then, when he found the perfect opportunity, it suddenly became a no-brainer. “It was an instant yes,” he said.

    Jones and assistant coaches Matthew Kingsley and Justin Simon ’04 invited some alumni of the program to speak at team Zoom calls this summer, and when Gabbidon approached his head coach about the possibility of working at a startup, Jones helped connect his captain with former forward Jason Abromaitis ’07. Gabbidon now works in Denver with Abromaitis and one other partner on an unpublicized stealth startup that blends artificial intelligence and athletic training. To him, the work is so exciting that he said he would have considered the opportunity in a regular year.

    “For people who want to take leaves of absence, coach Jones has been really amazing, connecting people with different alumni and unique opportunities,” Gabbidon said. “I know some pretty awesome opportunities that guys are excited to pursue. We don’t have these opportunities traditionally. We’re a two-semester sport, we have to play both semesters, so this is honestly the best way to leverage our Yale education and the network that comes from being a Yale student, and I think that’s what’s really driven everyone to decide this is actually something that can really help us long-term. It’s not like we’re doing this for basketball. We’re doing this because it’s going to help our futures.”

    Alausa is home in Chicago after spending the summer working at a lab in New Haven studying COVID-19 and conducting nephrology research. Although he thought about continuing at the lab this fall, he decided to return home instead, where he is studying for the MCAT and taking online classes through Washington University in St. Louis.

    A new tutoring organization he founded called VTS (Virtual Tutoring Sessions) also occupies his time. Alausa said he and friends sought to fill a need for academic help in their communities, and he received mentorship on the project from Arne Duncan, the former United States Secretary of Education under Barack Obama. The organization consists of 20 Black college students from across the country who are collectively helping to virtually tutor a group of 20 students this fall, and Alausa said there are plans to take in 10 more students as the months progress.

    Forward Jameel Alausa ’22 plans on taking a full gap year. This fall, he is tutoring with VTS, studying for the MCAT and taking online classes through the Washington University in St. Louis. (Photo: Ryan Chiao)

    Alausa, who is pre-med, thinks a season this year is unlikely.

    “Realistically, looking at the numbers and things like that, I don’t really see it,” he said. “But obviously it can happen. That’d be exciting and good for the people on campus. Personally, I’m not sure how it’s going to happen.”

    Others, though not necessarily optimistic, are still hopeful. Yess, who is enrolled this fall, pointed out that Yale’s testing program and low student case numbers to start the year have been encouraging, especially in light of dramatic spikes some other schools have experienced after reopening campuses.

    After a summer at home, he said it was nice to be back at Yale, but the decision to enroll was not an easy one.

    “It was one of those things that went back-and-forth for me all the time,” Yess said. “I wanted to enroll, I wanted to get my degree and finish out my time at Yale. I really enjoyed it, but I have one year left. And then the other side was I love basketball and want to keep playing as long as I can, especially at Yale. So at the end of the day, just for me personally with one year left and all the uncertainty going on, I just liked the idea of finishing up at Yale, getting my degree and having that aspect of certainty in my mind, and then assessing my options after the fact, whether that be basketball or a job or anything along those lines.”

    After going “back-and-forth” this summer, forward Wyatt Yess ’21 decided to enroll in classes. (Photo: Lukas Flippo)

    After finding parks to work out at back home in St. Louis, Yess has not played much basketball since returning to the Elm City — hoops are still without rims on many outdoor courts in New Haven — but has managed to lift weights at his off-campus residence. He said strictly phased workouts for those enrolled in residence are set to begin soon and will at first only include strength and conditioning.

    In a normal year, players would be preparing for the preseason together, tackling a timed mile, helping first years through shopping period and gearing up for real workouts back in the John J. Lee Amphitheater. But with everyone on a different wavelength this fall and the Bulldogs’ three first years only just emerging from their campus quarantines, group chats and the occasional Zoom call are tying everyone together. Only time will tell what the spring might hold.

    “[COVID-19] has been crazy, and it has demonstrated that opportunities can be taken away from you in an instant,” Dike summed up. “That being said, not having basketball for the moment allows me to put more time and energy into my studies. As for next semester, I really have to wait and see.”

    William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu

  3. MEN’S BASKETBALL: Before year of uncertainty, a summer workout with Azar Swain

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    STOUGHTON, MA — On an August night at the Dana Barros Basketball Club — a shiny five-court facility that normally hums with AAU teams, parents and tournament referees — the parking lot was mostly empty. 

    Azar Swain ’21 entered through the back door, picked a hoop and kicked off his slides. Sitting on the sidelines, he laced up a pair of white basketball shoes and acknowledged that certainties are rare in 2020.

    “I’m still not sure — you know, nobody’s really sure — what’s going to happen in the winter,” he said, a mask hiding most of his face and a backwards hat with “Boston” above the brim covering his head.

    The Yale men’s basketball guard and All-Ivy first team selection has not played a real game in more than five months — the last one occurred 40 minutes north of Stoughton at Harvard’s home court, Lavietes Pavilion. And with the Bulldogs’ nonconference basketball slate canceled this fall and any hope of Ivy League basketball this winter in jeopardy, Swain has no way to predict when he’ll take the floor again. 

    Amid the uncertainty around college basketball, his final two semesters at Yale and life itself, Swain is focusing on the positives, finding the time to recuperate his body while training roughly six days a week. Quarantine has shifted Swain’s basketball routine “backwards,” he said, bringing him back to the outdoor court in his neighborhood, bodyweight exercises, a few dumbbells and a tall hill for sprints near home. His father, LaWan Swain, was with a younger Azar when he would shoot at the park back then and almost always accompanies him for workouts now. At Dana Barros, they take advantage of a night inside with polished floors, an indoor rim and no wind.

    “Obviously, it’s been tough for a lot of people,” Azar said. “For me personally, I try to find the silver linings in a lot of things. For example, this summer, especially with the uncertainty of the Ivy League cancelling and all that, [has] given me a really long time to work on getting healthy and getting my knee better … When we got home [in] March to our next game is January hopefully, that’s a nine-month process. That’s been the biggest thing, trying to get healthy.”

    Swain’s coronavirus-era workouts have brought his body and left knee back to his senior year of high school –– he said he has not felt this good since then. Of the 91 games Yale has played since Swain started with the Blue and White, the 6-foot guard has only missed one. Game adrenaline helped him through any pain that would follow a layup off his left leg, he said, and he underwent surgery on his left patellar tendon a few weeks after the end of his sophomore season in April 2019. Last summer, he crammed, trying to fully recover his knee while simultaneously working on drills to return him to “game shape” by the first day of class in August. But by the end of the season, soreness after practices and games became routine.

    Few people could tell Swain was dealing with a knee issue when he played. He averaged a team-high 33.4 minutes a game last season and knocked down 93 three-pointers to capture Yale’s single-season record in the process. But summer under quarantine gave him the chance to resolve lingering pain, and he moved with fluidity during his evening workout at Dana Barros.

    LaWan rebounded like he always does, and Azar began in a ring around the basket, taking light shots to warm up. He emphasized his form, getting his wrist into rhythm, before moving beyond the three-point line to attack the basket with layups on both sides. For someone who is 28 career three-pointers shy of Yale’s school record (he sits at 201), Swain very rarely practiced spot-up shooting in his workout. Instead, he incorporated movement into nearly every drill. He glided past imaginary defenders on the way to the basket. He jabbed and hesitated before making a break or stopping to launch a mid-range shot. Even towards the end of the night, when he walked paces beyond the three-point arc, he dribbled through his legs before launching deep triples. Everything was fluid, patient and deliberate.

    “No matter if it’s running on a track, running on a hill, outdoor shooting, or I try to lift four or five times a week, [I’ve put a] lot more emphasis on skill work as far as basketball goes and less [on] game-conditioning workouts,” Swain said. “My mind is more focused on getting better individually — I know different things I need to get better at — so trying to focus on that and tighten up some of the fundamental things as opposed to thinking about an Alabama or something like that.”

    Without a set date for the start of the season, there is no Stony Brook, California or Creighton — Yale’s season-opening opponents the last three years — circled on the calendar for preparation. Swain said he thought this fall’s nonconference schedule, which would have featured a game against Alabama in New Haven, would have been Yale’s strongest. The lack of distant matchups on the calendar has allowed Swain to invest his time into expanding his layup package, finishing off his right foot with his left hand and continuing to expand his seemingly limitless range.

    He has barely played any five-on-five this summer, but said he made it to one summer scrimmage hosted by Boston-area coach and Penn State graduate assistant KJ Baptiste. Baptiste’s “Summer Runs” now boast their own Instagram account and an impressive list of New England-based participants, including many fellow alumni of the Mass Rivals grassroots basketball program. Among others, Swain said former high school teammate and current Villanova forward Jermaine Samuels, Villanova’s Cole Swider, former Notre Dame forward Bonzie Colson and UConn graduate Jalen Adams also scrimmaged the day he played.

    Zoom meetings and virtual work with Yale coaches throughout the summer have complemented his own training. Initially, the team gathered on the platform to chat and check in with each other. But as the summer went on, players took part in virtual scouts and studied game film via shared screens.

    “I’m a single child, so I’m used to being alone,” Swain said. “I can be in the house not doing much, but I have some people in my family and close friends who have really gone through it with everything being shut down and not being able to see other people. I guess having that support group in a sense, being able to talk to them sometimes — I think that’s been good for our team.”

    Teammates have come up with their own training solutions during quarantine, as many across the world, not only college basketball players, adapt their daily lives to take place outside or at home. Guard Matthue Cotton ’22 said he had to be more creative with his basketball-related work than in previous summers, and he turned a training project into a family activity.

    Back in March, his father ordered the dimensions for the college game’s deeper three-point line in order to paint new lines around the Cottons’ outdoor hoop. By May, a hot day allowed Cotton, his parents and his older brother, who plays basketball at Division II Lincoln University, to place and paint down the permanent three-point line. Since then, Cotton said he has managed to gain access to a few indoor gyms but still uses the outdoor court to shoot and play one-on-one with his brother.

    “Doing countless at-home workouts during the beginning of quarantine was extremely frustrating since I was so used to being able to go to a gym and lift weights,” Cotton said. “Researching various workouts, buying bands, buying a heavy basketball and utilizing equipment in my house that I’ve never used beforehand allowed me to make the best of quarantine. For me, working out without a game to look forward to has not had much of an effect.”

    Back at the Dana Barros Basketball Club, Swain strolled to the free throw line. He had built a sweat, and he stood, hands on knees, collecting his breath. He picked up the ball and sized up the rim, shooting free throws before moving on to iterations of jump shots and free throws, jump shots and free throws. Azar and his father consulted throughout the sequence, talking briefly about where to shoot or mechanics to keep in mind.

    Shots from deep — way deep — concluded the workout before one final run at the free throw line. “Watch his feet,” LaWan said when Azar was launching shots from the top of the key at one point. “If they’re both straight, it’s going to go in.”

    LaWan said he shouts the same reminders from the stands sometimes at games when Azar finds himself in a cold streak. LaWan, who grew up in Boston and played high school basketball, attends nearly every Yale game, but no matter whom the Bulldogs face — whether Oklahoma State on the road or Harvard at home — he makes a point of sitting with the opposing team’s fans.

    “When we’re there, I’m listening to what people are saying,” LaWan said. “I’ll take notes from the game, not from what I’ve seen that he did good, but what I hear people say that he did bad, and then we’ll go back and we’ll work on it. As a dad, as a fan, maybe I only see the good stuff. So they’re going to tell me what they think that the best way to attack him is.”

    The next time LaWan can catch a game may remain an open question into 2021, even in the case that Yale plays its conference schedule this winter.

    But for now, Azar is still shooting, fine-tuning his fundamentals and his body as he waits for his career to resume. 

    “Everything kind of happens for a reason,” he said. “I just try to take that mindset and roll with the punches.”

    William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu

  4. Two seniors chase hoop dreams

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    May is a time of uncertainty for Yale seniors as they look to begin the rest of their lives, but two Yale seniors are searching for a job on the hardwood rather than in an office or classroom.

    Center Greg Mangano ’12 and forward Reggie Willhite ’12 are currently preparing to enter the world of professional basketball after Commencement.

    Mangano has produced most of the buzz between the two players, as he has tried to show NBA teams around the country what he is capable of. He recently returned to campus after participating in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Portsmouth, Va., from April 11 to 14.

    “I thought he did a real nice job at proving that he can shoot from the perimeter,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “[That was] the emphasis that his agent has put on him.”

    At the Tournament, Mangano averaged 10.7 points and six rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent (6–13) from beyond the arc in three games. The next step for Mangano will be to participate in individual workouts with several NBA teams, Jones said.

    “I thought I played well. I shot the ball from deep,” Mangano said. “Going to a small mid-major school, you don’t get the same kind of exposure.”

    Mangano added that he has a work-out set up with the Utah Jazz. He has been training in New Jersey during the weekends.

    Although all 30 NBA teams had scouts at the Portsmouth tournament, it was not the first time that scouts have seen Mangano play.

    “During the course of the season there were a couple of scouts that requested credentials to the games,” Assistant Director of Sports Publicity Tim Bennett said.

    He added that the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs all requested press passes for scouts to attend Yale games this past season.

    The Spurs were one of two teams, along with the Boston Celtics, who contacted Jones after Mangano filled out the paperwork for the draft after last season, Jones said.

    Jones suggested that Mangano test the waters of the NBA draft to create interest following a junior season during which he averaged 16.3 points and ten rebounds per game. But Mangano did not hire an agent last year and returned to Yale for his senior season.

    “There was nothing really last year that he did other than put his name into the draft,” Jones said. “I [suggested he enter the draft] because I thought Greg should’ve been Player of the Year and he wasn’t. I thought it important for him to have his name put out there.”

    Although it is not likely that Mangano’s name will be called on draft day, Jones said, Mangano will still have a good chance to make an NBA team. The center will be able to try out over the summer to sign a free agent contract with a team, and if not, he will have the option of playing the NBA’s Developmental League — the NBA’s version of the Minors. Mangano also said that he could play in Europe, adding that he is open to playing overseas and has talked to representatives from teams in Spain, Israel and Lithuania.

    In this case, Mangano will face a tough choice, Jones said, because the D-League gives players more exposure to NBA teams but European teams can pay more.

    “I want to show that I’m a versatile 6’ 11’’ player who can stretch the floor,” Mangano said.

    Although Mangano is the more traditional NBA prospect with his superior height, Willhite is also looking to play professionally and has hired an agent in the hopes of landing with a team in the United States or abroad.

    “Reggie’s a great prospect and I wish him just as much luck in the process,” Jones said. “It’s just easier when you’re six-eleven.”

    Willhite did not respond for comment Tuesday.

    As the 2012 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, Willhite could make a team as a lockdown defender rather than as a long-range scoring threat like Mangano.

    The Ivy League is not traditionally a pipeline to the NBA, but with Jeremy Lin’s sensational run with the New York Knicks earlier this year, new hope has been given to Ancient Eight ballers such as Mangano and Willhite.

    The 2012 NBA draft will be held on June 28.

  5. M. BASKETBALL | Bulldogs’ postseason ends in Bridgeport

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    Yale’s first trip to the postseason in a decade was a short one.

    The Bulldogs held a 13-point lead at halftime, but fell to Fairfield University (20-14, 12-6 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) in Bridgeport, Conn. on Wednesday, 68-56.

    Eight Elis scored in the first half as Yale used a balanced attack to build a 39-26 advantage going into the break, but the Stags raced out of intermission on a 24-3 run to build a 50-42 lead.

    “I just thought we played harder [than Yale],” Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson said. “With all due respect to Yale… I thought they were outworking us in the first half, [but] clearly we dug deeper.”

    The Stags’ second half spurt began at the defensive end. Fairfield ground the Bulldogs’ attack to a halt, preventing Yale from registering a single assist after the break.

    Fairfield had seven second half steals. Stag guard Colin Nickerson led the string of larcenies, registering four in the second half on his way to a five steal, 22-point performance.

    “They were able to turn us over and turn it into points,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “That was the biggest problem we had in the second half.”

    Jones added that playing much of the game without a true point guard hurt Yale. Starter Mike Grace ’13 was sidelined with an injury and Isaiah Salafia ’14 left the team earlier in the year for personal reasons. The only remaining true point guard on the roster, Javier Duren ’15, had played only 89 minutes all season prior to Wednesday’s contest.

    The Bulldogs did not go softly into the good night, however; forward and captain Reggie Willhite’s ’12 layup with 1:06 remaining cut the deficit to 61-56. The Stags gave life to Yale by missing seven straight free throws down the stretch before draining its final five attempts from the line to seal the game.

    In addition to being the last game of Yale’s 2011-12 season, the loss was also the final game for the Class of 2012.

    “[My classmates] all had really good careers here,” center Greg Mangano ’12 said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s a tough way to go out.”

    Mangano added that, as captain, Willhite was the leader of the team. Willhite was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and had two steals on Wednesday to increase his Yale single season record to 65.

    Willhite contributed ten points, and Mangano led the Elis with 17 points and eight rebounds. The duo, which ranked first and second on the Bulldogs in scoring for the season, scored only ten points in the final half of their careers with the blue and white.

    “[The seniors] did a great job leading us all year,” Jones said. “I thanked them for their efforts. It’s kind of difficult at this point to reflect on everything because it comes to a crashing halt: especially when we felt so good coming into the second half.”

    Fairfield will move on to the second round of the CIT this weekend. The Stag’s opponent will be unveiled following the completion of the remaining first round games.

  6. M. BASKETBALL | Balanced Bulldogs sweep homestand

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    Yale’s seniors have played a combined 300 games in their college careers, but they found a way to make their final homestand stand out this weekend.

    The Bulldogs (19-7, 9-3 Ivy) prevailed against Columbia (14-14, 3-9 Ivy) 75-67 on Friday night and followed it up by demolishing Cornell (11-15, 6-6 Ivy) 71-40 on Senior Night Saturday. Forward Greg Mangano ’12 said that the 31-point victory was a satisfying home finale.

    “I couldn’t think of a much better way to go out,” Mangano said. “[There was a] really good crowd and great contributions from everybody … We just played really well as a team.”

    The four seniors — forward Rhett Anderson ’12, guard Brian Katz ’12, forward Greg Mangano ’12 and forward Reggie Willhite ’12 — were honored in a pre-game ceremony. Then they led the team to its most lopsided victory of the year in Ancient Eight play.

    Mangano led a balanced scoring effort with 16 points in addition to 10 rebounds. Willhite scored eight points to go along with nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals.

    “[Willhite’s] superman,” head coach James Jones said. “I’m going to get him a cape. He does everything for us.”

    Willhite also contributed heavily to Friday’s victory, scoring 20 points while pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out six assists. Mangano scored a game-high 22 points on Friday. Guard Austin Morgan ‘13 had 14 and 11 points, respectively, but the weekend was a team effort.

    On Friday night it was forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 who stepped up for the Elis. He also tied his career-high by scoring 10 points — eight in the second half — to hold off the Lions. He entered the weekend shooting just 58.6 percent from the free-throw line, but he knocked down six of nine from the charity stripe to preserve the victory. He said that his success was a result of his extra work.

    “It was a lot of work in practice,” Sherrod said. “I try to shoot free throws after every practice.”

    On, Saturday guard Jesse Pritchard ’14 answered the call for the Bulldogs. He hit all three of his attempts from beyond the arc on the way to a career-high 13 points along with two steals. He tied a career-high with four assists on Friday without turning the ball over once. Willhite said that the team plays its best when the offense is balanced.

    “When we move the ball we can be a very, very good team,” Willhite said. “It’s not always about scoring, it’s about making the right play. When we give the ball up to the open man we get good shots.”

    The homestand sweep gave the Bulldogs an 11-1 home record this season. Jones attributed part of this success to the crowd. He added that the players feed off of the energy of the fans at the Lee Amphitheater.

    Jones said that he did have one regret about the weekend, though: He wished that Katz — who has been limited to two games this season after having double retina surgery — could have dressed for senior night.

    “I’m saddened by the fact that one of our seniors, Brian Katz … couldn’t be a part of the game on the floor,” Jones said. “That’s something you want to think about and have a memory. Certainly Greg and Rhett and Reggie are going to have a memory about that going forward.”

    The Elis will travel to Princeton March 2 for the final weekend of the regular season.

  7. M. BASKETBALL | Elis prep for final home stand

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    Yalies hoping to wach the men’s basketball team in action at home this season will get their last chance this weekend.

    The Bulldogs will play host to Columbia (14–12, 3–7 Ivy) tonight and then face Cornell (10–14, 5–5 Ivy) at the Lee Amphitheater Saturday. The Bulldogs played on the road the past two weekends, most recently in a 66-51 loss at Harvard last Saturday. Although the Elis were defeated by their archrival Crimson, Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said that he saw Yale as a team that is never out of a ballgame.

    “[Yale has] been down, and they’ve marched their way back and won games,” Amaker said last Saturday. “That’s the mark of a good team — a tough team.”

    The Bulldogs will need to be tough this weekend, as they are in third place in the Ivy League: a half-game behind Penn and two below the Cantabs.

    If the Elis want to gain a postseason berth — either the NCAA tournament bid given to the Ivy League champion or an National Invitational Tournament bid as the second place team — then sweeping the final home stand of the year is essential. The Bulldogs played both Cornell and Columbia away two weeks ago, losing to the Big Red 85–84 in OT before overcoming a 21-point deficit the next night and beating the Lions 59–58 in New York City.

    One reason that Cornell was able to topple Yale in Ithaca was the hot shooting of Jonathan Gray, who hit six of his eight three-point attempts on his way to a career-high 29 points. Although Yale head coach James Jones said that the Bulldogs will have to improve on defending ball screens, he said that he would not game-plan specifically for Gray.

    “We want to limit shots for anyone,” Jones said. “If [Gray] shot his average, we [would] win the game. [But] we’ll certainly be conscious of him.”

    Gray is averaging a career-high 8.4 points per game this season and shooting 29.7 percent from beyond the arc.

    This weekend will not only be the final home stand of the season: it will also be the final home stand in the careers of four Bulldogs. Forward Rhett Anderson ’12, guard Brian Katz ’12, forward Greg Mangano ’12 and forward Reggie Willhite ’12 will all suit up for their final regular season game at the Lee Amphitheater Saturday.

    Although Mangano and Willhite might look to pursue professional basketball after graduation, Anderson said that he is looking at his final home game as a different transition.

    “I’m transitioning from something I’ve been doing my whole life — playing basketball competitively — to something else,” Anderson said. “[This weekend] is going to be business as usual, which is probably going to be one thing I like the most. I’m just enjoying it while it lasts.”

    Yale has won nine of its 10 home games so far this year.

  8. M. BASKETBALL | Recruiting renews roster

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    John Stockton put on the same short shorts for 19 straight seasons for the Utah Jazz. In contrast, players only get four years of eligibility in college, so coaches must continually recruit new talent to replace seniors.

    The Bulldogs will graduate four seniors this year: captain and forward Reggie Willhite ’12, forward Greg Mangano ’12, forward Rhett Anderson ’12 and guard Brian Katz ’12.

    The four roster spots opened up by the graduating class of 2012 combined with the uncertain future of point guard Isaiah Salafia ’14 – who has left the team indefinitely for personal reasons — will open up space for the class of 2016 on a roster that had 17 players at the season’s beginning.

    “Seventeen [players] is the most I’ve ever carried,” head coach James Jones said. “Normally I carry 13 or 14 recruited players … But Brian [Katz] had double retina surgery, and Isaiah [Salafia] had to leave with personal issues, and suddenly we’re a little thin in the backcourt.”

    Jones will have to make do with the players at hand for the rest of this season until next year, when he will bring in three new Bulldogs. According to ESPN.com and other sources, the class of 2016 will consist of power forward Justin Sears ’16 from Plainfield High School in Plainfield, N.J., point guard Jack Montague ’16 from Brentwood High School in Brentwood, Tenn. and small forward Nick Victor ’16 from the Winchendon School in Winchendon, Mass.

    Jones was only able to confirm the addition of Sears, however, because he is the only player to have officially sent in his card to matriculate to Yale.

    “We can’t really comment on any of the recruits officially until we get that card,” Assistant Director of Sports Publicity Tim Bennett said. “The recruits themselves may say that they’re coming to Yale, but we won’t officially announce it until we have that card.”

    The athletic department at Plainfield High School did not return phone calls made by the News.

    According to an Oct. 30 article on newjersey.com, Sears opted for Yale over Princeton University, Stanford University and Boston University.

    Brentwood head coach Dennis King confirmed that Montague will bring his talents to New Haven next year. He added that Montague brings more than talent to the court.

    “It’s almost like he’s an assistant coach for us,” King said. “He has that kind of maturity for us. When he talks in the huddle, we listen … I’ve coached for 39 years, and he is probably the most committed basketball player I have ever coached.”

    King said that Montague is MVP of his league and is averaging around 17 points and seven assists per game. Belmont University and Lipscomb University were among several other schools competing with Yale for Montague.

    Victor will come to Yale in the fall after completing a postgraduate year at the Winchendon School. Jones said that taking a postgraduate year helps players to mature.

    “[A postgraduate year] is great for a couple of reasons,” Jones said. “Some kids need to sharpen their academics. A lot of high schools around the country don’t really prepare kids for the Ivy League. Athletically it gives them another year.”

    Three players on the current roster took postgraduate years between high school and college. Willhite played at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, guard Jesse Pritchard ’14 went to Blair Academy in New Jersey and forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 came to Yale this year from Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut.

    Matthew Quinn, Victor’s head coach at Winchendon, did not respond to a request for comment.

    The new Elis will join a team next year that will lose a bulk of its production on the court due to graduation. Although Katz has played in just two games after his surgery earlier in the year, the senior class has combined to average 32.8 points per game and 44.4 percent of the points the Elis have scored this season. Jones said that it will be a team effort to make up for the loss.

    “I expect it’ll be all hands on deck,” Jones said. “It’s harder for freshmen to contribute. There’s a huge difference [between high school and college].”

    Jones added that there might be room for walk-ons on next year’s roster.

  9. M. BASKETBALL | Willhite makes highlights

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    Men’s basketball forward Reggie Willhite ’12 was not always destined to wear the Yale jersey. Upon graduation from Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley, Calif., in 2007, Willhite contemplated enrolling in the United States Air Force Academy and taking his basketball talents there. Willhite took a postgraduate year because he started the recruiting process with Air Force a bit late, but two weeks into his postgraduate year at Exeter in New Hampshire, Willhite committed to play for Yale.

    Four years later, Willhite is not only a standout player on the team, he is also the team’s captain who has earned the admiration of his teammates.

    Teammates said Willhite is a competitor who makes big plays and inspires those around him. They attribute his success on the court to his work ethic.

    “The freshmen and sophomores have confidence in themselves because he has confidence in them,” center Greg Mangano ’12 said.

    Guard Austin Morgan ’13 explained that announcers call him ‘Highlight Willhite’ because he always makes the play that is the highlight of the game. In Yale’s Feb. 4 58–54 victory over Princeton, Willhite brought the crowd to its feet when he dunked the ball. The following week, he was recognized on the Ivy Honor Roll for his 20 points and nine rebounds in the game.

    And in the Bulldogs 59–58 win at Columbia on Feb. 11, Willhite scored 24 points over the course of the game to help the Bulldogs come back from a 21-point deficit in the last 12 minutes of the second half. With 13 seconds left on the clock, his layup secured Yale’s one-point victory.

    “He provides energy for the team both with his play and his leadership,” said head coach James Jones. “He leads by playing hard and doing everything the right way.”

    But for Willhite, this confidence on the court has not always come easily. Willhite faced numerous injuries in his freshman season at Yale, scoring four total points in eight appearances off the bench.

    Willhite said that he went home to Elk Grove, Calif. after freshman year determined to hone his athleticism. He spent the summer running and training in a program with international basketball professionals.

    And his work paid off. By his sophomore year, Willhite saw his playing time increase, and he finished the season fourth on the team in steals with 37. Unfortunately, Willhite faced another setback when he tore his LCL after the season. Willhite overcame the injury and again pushed himself over the summer. By his junior year, Willhite began to prove his capabilities on the court, Mangano said. He finished first in the Ivy League with 28 steals in conference games and scored a career-high 21 points to lead the Bulldogs to a 87–81 double-overtime victory at Columbia. Willhite started all 28 games and received the team’s most improved player award at the conclusion of the season.

    “Since freshman year, he has improved every facet of his game, from his shooting to his ball handling,” Jones said.

    As a senior, Willhite is second on the team and eighth in the league in scoring with 12.5 points per game. He leads the league with 2.2 steals per game.

    Willhite, a political science major and Morse College resident, has not put an expiration date on his career. Throughout college, Willhite has trained with everyone from New York Knicks guard Landry Fields to Olympic gold medalist Christian Laettner. These athletes have given Willhite unique opportunities to improve his skills. Willhite is determined to follow in the footsteps of these professionals. His dad, Reggie Willhite Sr., whom Willhite calls before every game, is helping him to pursue a professional basketball career. Willhite said he could possibly play overseas or get tryouts with NBA Development League or NBA teams.

    But enjoying his time on the court and helping the Bulldogs to complete the season is his current focus, Willhite said.

    The Bulldogs are ranked third in the Ivy League and take on sixth-ranked Columbia at home Friday at 7 p.m.

  10. M. BASKETBALL | Elis fall to Cantabs

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    CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Going into this weekend, the Bulldogs controlled their own destiny. Now they will not be able to get by in the Ivy League without a little help from their friends.

    Yale (17–7, 7–3 Ivy) took care of business at Dartmouth (5–21, 1–9 Ivy) 70–61 on Friday night, but it could not conquer the balanced attack of Harvard (23–3, 9–1 Ivy) and fell 66–51 in Cambridge, Mass on Saturday.

    The Elis now trail the Ancient Eight-leading Cantabs by two games in the standings with four games remaining on the schedule. Forward Greg Mangano ’12 said that the loss complicates winning at least a share of the Ivy League championship for the first time since 2002.

    “We need some help now,” Mangano said. “It makes it tougher now to win the championship. [But] I’ve seen crazier things happen … We can’t act like the season’s over.”

    The game at Harvard seemed an inevitable loss for the Elis soon after it started when the Crimson surged to a 35–15 advantage, but Yale finished the first half on an 11–0 run in the final four minutes to make it a nine-point game at the half.

    The Bulldogs started the second half like they finished the first and trimmed the once insurmountable Crimson lead to 42–38 when Mangano sank two free throws with 13:40 to play. Yale head coach James Jones said that the run reminded him of the Elis’ 21-point comeback against Columbia Feb. 11, which ended with a 59–58 win.

    “What we did last week was a miracle,” Jones said. “I thought we were there [again]. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think we were going to win. It’s hard to come back all of the time.”

    Harvard did not let Yale get any closer, however, as six different Cantabs scored down the stretch to push the lead back to double digits. Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said that a balanced offense has been one of his team’s best attributes.

    “One thing I love about this team is that we don’t have a go-to guy,” Amaker said. “We refer to the go-to guy as the open man.”

    When the storied rivals faced off in New Haven on Jan. 27, guard Laurent Rivard led the Crimson with 18 points and guard Brandyn Curry scored only four. It was Curry who stole the show Saturday, dropping 18 just one night after being held scoreless against Brown. Nine Cantabs scored, with eight of them scoring at least four points.

    Mangano led the Bulldogs with 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks for his second double-double of the weekend. He scored 16 points and pulled down 15 rebounds at Dartmouth the night before.

    Guard Austin Morgan ’13 paced the Bulldogs with 17 points against Big Green as he hit all 12 of his free throws to overcome a career-high 23 points from Dartmouth forward Gabas Maldunas. Mangano said that the game in Hanover was as much of a must-win as the game against Harvard.

    “We wanted to focus on getting a win [at Dartmouth] so this game [at Harvard] would still mean something,” Mangano said following the loss to the Crimson. “We were able to do that and focus our energy toward coming in here and trying to beat them. We weren’t able to do it.”

    The Bulldogs have four games remaining in the regular season, with the next game at home this Friday against Columbia.

  11. M. BASKETBALL | On the road again

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    The men’s basketball team says that every weekend in the Ivy League is equal, but this weekend just might be more equal than others.

    The Bulldogs will head up to Hanover, N.H., to face Dartmouth (4–20, 0–8 Ivy) tonight before traveling to Cambridge for a showdown with Ivy League-leading Harvard (21–3, 7–1 Ivy) on Saturday.

    In a conference where every game counts towards determining the Ancient Eight champion and the recipient of the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, head coach James Jones and several players said that both games were crucial. “We’re always excited to play Harvard,” forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 said. “But you’ve got to take it one game at a time.”

    That does not mean that the Elis will not be looking for blood in their rematch against the Crimson.

    When Yale last battled the Cantabs Jan. 27, its archrivals stole the show and demolished the Bulldogs 65–35 in front of a sellout crowd at the Lee Amphitheater.

    The Elis still seemed shell-shocked the next night when they went down 23–15 early against the bottom-dwelling Big Green before ending the first half on an 18–3 run and winning 62–52. The Bulldogs are determined not to let the shadow of the “Basketball Game” affect the game against Dartmouth this time.

    “If you beat Harvard but lose to Dartmouth that doesn’t help,” forward Greg Mangano ’12 said. “We control our own destiny.”

    In order to keep their destiny within reach, the Elis will have to win out. In that case, even if Harvard wins every game except for Saturday’s showdown at Harvard Yard, the Bulldogs will be assured at least a share of the Ivy League crown for the first time since 2002.

    The Bulldogs are now just past the halfway mark of their season, as they have played every Ivy League team at least once. In the six games remaining, Jones said the Ivy League competition will become even more cerebral.

    “[After the first game you] see coaches put wrinkles into their offenses,” Jones said. “Now in the second time around the coaching becomes more important.”

    Coaches’ strategies are nothing without execution on the court, however. Both the Big Green and the Crimson have players who can create problems for the Bulldogs.

    Jvonte Brooks, freshman forward and three-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week, leads Dartmouth. He paces the team with nine points and adds 8.5 rebounds per game.

    Forward Kyle Casey tops the balanced Crimson attack with 11 points per game while forward Keith Wright contributes 10.6 points per contest.

    The Cantabs’ greatest strength is not scoring however, but defense.

    Harvard leads the Ivy League and is fourth in Division I in scoring defense by allowing a miserly 54.2 points per game.

    Both the Big Green and the Crimson may also gain an advantage from the long road trip the Bulldogs will face. More than 300 miles separate New Haven from Cambridge, with a stop in Hanover in between. Although not as far as last week’s odyssey to Ithaca, Jones said this weekend presents its own challenges.

    “It’s not as bad as the Cornell road trip — nothing is,” Jones said. “Back-to-back road trips are tough. That’s the nature of the beast [playing in the Ivy League].”

    With a win tonight, the Bulldogs would secure a sweep of Dartmouth for the third consecutive season.